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Blues' total change of style breeding inconsistency - Interview
Tuesday, 10th Dec 2019 10:56 by Clive Whittingham

Pep Clotet's Birmingham City are one of a number of clubs attempting to change to a more attractive style of play this season, with inconsistent results occurring during the transformation accordiing to our regular Blues contributor Matthew Elliott.

How have Birmingham started the season?

It's been a really inconsistent one so far. Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit. It's no surprise we're sitting mid-table. It's a transitional phase for us right now, going from a very direct brand of football under Garry Monk to a more possession based game now. We are seeing signs that it is working though. At times, some of the football we have seen this season has been very good.

Birmingham league results so far…
Brentford 0-1 Birmingham Pedersen 18
Birmingham 1-1 Bristol City Jutkiewicz 64 – Rowe 83
Forest 3-0 Birmingham Lolley 15, Grabban 22, Dawson 65
Birmingham 2-0 Barnsley Jutciewicz 69, Alvaro 77
Swansea 3-0 Birmingham Naughton 63, Celina 68, Baston pen 75
Birmingham 2-1 Stoke Jutciewicz 73, Bellingham 76 – Lindsay 58
Charlton 0-1 Birmingham Bellingham 52
Birmingham 0-1 Preston Maguire 23
Derby 3-2 Birmingham Martin 2, Waghorn 50, Paterson 74 – Gardner 56, Sunjic 59
Wigan 1-0 Birmingham Pilkington 76
Birmingham 2-1 Middlesbrough Villalba 33, Bailey 89 – Ayala 87
Leeds 1-0 Birmingham Phillips 65
Birmingham 1-0 Blackburn Colin 31
Birmingham 2-1 Luton Pedersen 45, Jutciewicz 82 – Cornick 67
Cardiff 4-2 Birmingham Ralls 30, 69, pen 90, Nelson 38 – Pedersen 3, Sunjic 89
Birmingham 0-1 Fulham Mitrovic 52
Huddersfield 1-1 Birmingham Campbell 55 – Jutciewicz 78
Sheff Wed 1-1 Birmingham Harris 81 – Alvaro 48
Birmingham 1-1 Millwall Clarke-Salter 79 – Williams 61
Reading 2-3 Birmingham Meite 45, Joao 90 – Morrison og 41, Bela 59, Alvaro 88

I notice Pep Clotet got the job permanently after that weird temporary caretaker head coach stuff, what was all that about and what have you made of the job he’s done so far?

You're right, it was a weird. I think there was a few factors to it to be honest. I don't think Monk's pay off was sorted and there may have been some legal implications. I'm also not sure the board truly thought Clotet was the man for the job. Personally, I still have my doubts about the whole thing. I mean, he's been given the job permanently, but there is no mention of a contract extension or pay increase. I'm sure his current contract runs out in June. More to come on that, I think. He's done okay. I like him and he's become more confident and assertive, but I'm still not convinced by him. That said Clotet does have us playing better football, which is part of his modus operandi. What I am hearing is that the players absolutely love him and they're really enjoying his methods and man management. I think the board have recognised this along with a bit of progress on the pitch and have gone for a bit stability, which is most unlike them.

What did you make of the summer transfer business, and are there any names doing the rounds for January?

Summer transfer business was an interesting one. Changing our style of play has meant that we really needed to revamp the midfield at the very least. We had a few needs that required addressing and we did that in the most part. We brought in Ivan Sunjic, Fran Villalba and Dan Crowley, all very good technically sound midfielders. We also brought in left sided ball playing centre-back, Jake Clarke-Salter and Spanish striker Alvaro Gimenez. Late in the window we picked up the Jefferson Montero who looks like a world beater for 20 minutes before spending a few weeks with the physio. We also recently picked up pacey French winger/forward Jeremie Bela on a free, who looks useful

Unfortunately we never replaced Che Adams with a proven goal scorer. If we had I think we would probably be six or seven points better off. What has impressed me most about the recruitment is that the club have mostly targeted players that are young with a lot of potential and resale value. I hope to see that continue in the January window.

Ins: Ivan Sunjic, 22, CM, Zagreb, £7.2m >>> Alvaro Gimenez, 28, CF, Almeria, £1.35m >>> Dan Crowley, 21, AM, Willem, £700k >>> Jeremie Bela, 26, LW, Albacete, £450k >>> Gary Gardner, 27, CM, Villa, Part Ex >>> Agus Medina, 24, CM, UE Cornella (Spain), Free >>> Ivan Guzman, 28, RW, UE Alot (Spain), Free >>> >>> Jake Clarke-Salter, 21, CB, Chelsea, Loan >>> Jefferson Montero, 29, LW, Swansea, Loan >>> Moha Ramos, 19, GK, Castilla, Loan >>> Fran Villalba, 21, AM, Valencia, Loan

Outs: Che Adams 22, CF, Southampton, £15m >>> Jota, 28, RW, Villa, £4m part ex >>> Isaac Vassell, 25, CF, Cardiff, Undisclosed >>> Greg Stewart, 29, CF, Rangers, Free >>> Viv Solomon-Otobor, 23, RW, Sofia, Free >>> Bez Lubala, 21, CF, Crawley, Free >>> Michael Morrison, 31, CB, Reading, Free >>> Cheick Ndoye, 33, CM, Released >>> Tomasz Kuszczak, 37, GK, Released >>> Josh Cogley, 23, RB, Crawley, Loan >>> Charlie Lakin, 20, AM, Stevenage, Loan >>> Corey O’Keeffe, 21, RB, Macclesfield, Loan

What sort of shape and style of play should we expect from your side on Wednesday?

This season we've seen 541, 352, 442, 4222, 433 and 4231. We have a tendency to go with two strikers at home, so I wouldn't be surprised to see us go 442, but I'd like to see us go with 4231, I think it suits the current personnel. With regards to style of play, we are progressing on the field. You'll see some nice passages of play out from the back, but we aren't afraid to go more direct if needed.

Stand out players and weak links in the side?

Ivan Sunjic is the guy that makes the side tick, sits deep, breaks up play dictates the pace of the game and is very confident on the ball. It's hard not to mention midfielder Jude Bellingham (he's only 16 you know). Very talented kid with a bit of everything in his locker, he's going to be an exceptional player. If Dan Crowley is fit, he'll cause problems for you. Very talented player, who can unlock defences, but occasionally gets a bit greedy and holds on to the ball for too long. With regards to the weak links, I think centre back could be an issue. We've lost Roberts and Clarke-Salter to injury in the last two games, so we will probably see academy product, Wes Harding, in there. You could have some joy down our left side as well. I'm still not convinced the EFL's best mate, Kristian Pedersen, was worth the points deduction.

Are the FFP issues over with the nine point deduction last season, or is there a sense that there could be further breaches/problems to come?

I think we're good. The Adams money will have helped. They haven't spent fortunes and they've mostly picked up younger players on low wages. A few players and high earners are due to leave at the end of the season too, which will help.

And your weird and wonderful ownership structure is in what current state?
It’s still convoluted, but much the same as last time we caught up, no real change and I don't really expect anything to change this season.

Expectations for the rest of the season?

I honestly just want to see us continue to progress on the pitch. I'd be happy with top half, consolidation and then kick on next season. We are starting to pick up injuries now, so that could see us struggle. Could we flirt with the play offs? All depends on what we do in the January window. If we could pick up a proven goalscorer and centre back as a minimum I certainly think we could have a go.

Links >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press

The Twitter @loftforwords, @MatthewBlue1875

Pictures – Action Images


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TacticalR added 14:09 - Dec 11
Thanks to Matthew.

Birmingham seem like us in that they have periodic lurches in different directions when it comes to footballing philosophy. Everybody wants to play possession football and bring through young players, but that's easier said than done.
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